Monday, February 28, 2011

Birthday Party Overload

At a certain age, maybe by the time they reach the tender age of three, children become highly aware of their birthdays.  Preparation for the momentous party begins approximately one week after the last birthday, and their young, naive imaginations lead them to bigger, grander, and even more expensive party dreams.  Last year she had a princess cake?  Well, this year it needed to be a three-tier castle cake complete with a fairy princess and dragon. When she turned three a ballerina danced at her party?  At four, she'll need a glittery, magical princess that sings in a fairy-tale voice.

Over the past few decade, parents have become extreme in almost all aspects of parenting, including the party planning. This season, on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, two of the housewives threw their own dueling outrageous kid parties.  Kyle Richards spent over $15,000 on a party for her 2-year-old daughter that included a a french fry station and a petting zoo.  Taylor Armstrong, and her revolting husband, shelled out nearly $60,000 on their daughter's 4-year-old Mad Hatter Tea Party themed birthday.  The party resembled something more on the lines of a fancy, yet dull-as-can-be, bridal shower, than a child's fantasy celebration.  It was complete with expensive flowers flowing out of hovering tea pots, bite sized tea sandwiches and pettifors, champagne flutes, and a band that wrote a song especially for the birthday girl (as tears from the cranky youngster flowed down her pudgy face).  The party also favors included $100 Barbie necklaces for all child attendants.

I could write off Kyle and Taylor's extravagance as being just part of the Real Housewives franchise, until TLC (the channel that brings us riveting television, such as Toddlers and Tiaras, as well as Mall Cops) debuted its latest brainchild- Outrageous Kid Parties last Monday, February 21st.   In its pilot, a normal-looking Utah family was in the midst of throwing their soon-to-be 6-year-old daughter, Gracie, a truly fairy-tale celebration, set in a castle with guest adorned in lavish costumes fit for a Shakespearean play.  Here are just a few of the ways little Gracie's parents made her 6th birthday so special:
  • 42 floral centerpieces
  • $3000 on invitations
  • $2,100 on a 9-tier cake (which caused Gracie to melt down in tears when she discovered that the bird design was purple, not blue)
  • 200 person guest list
  • a spa day, to help her relax, the day before the party
  • personal hair and make-up team (complete with dressers) for the birthday girl
  • a Cinderella carriage to drive Gracie and her bff's to the party
  • Grand Total = $32,304.28 
Umm.... okay.  I think you get the point.  It was totally disgusting.

Even in San Francisco, where homemade outshines store-bought, and crafty always trumps elaborate, children's birthday parties have truly become ridiculous.  In the past three weeks we have been to one party with a balloon twisting alien, one with a face-painting, magical fairy princess, and one with a real live pony (and this was in the city of San Francisco where houses are small and backyards even smaller).  Bouncy houses are practically mandatory and a fine selection of adult beverages, including coffee and mimosas, is expected. 

So what does all this dazzle and sparkle actually cost us mere mortals who do not qualify for reality television?  If you want to lease out the party, so that wayward children do not destroy your own living space, there are the prices for a few Bay Area favorite celebration locations:
  • Pump-it-Up (indoor jumpy house arena) costs  $320 just to use the space, no food or cake included.
  • Urban Recess (indoor playground) rents their space for 1.5 hours at a mere $400.  Again, no food, drink, party favors or decorations included.
  • Peekadoodle Kidsclub's (another indoor play space) package goes for a meager $1395.  This does include pizza, juice, party favors, and a "Red Carpet Treatment".   But still, that's a bit absurd!
    Growing up in a quiet Oregon town, birthday parties were small affairs- Six close friends, a few celebratory games, cake and ice cream, then everyone was sent home (most independently walked back to their own house).   And, this was awesome!  We were ecstatic to have a few friends over and open a Strawberry Shortcake or two.  It was enough to last us another 364 days.

    When did this change and why? What drives us to throw elaborate birthday parties for children at an age that would be just as happy rolling around in the backyard mud puddle?  I pondered this question carefully and couldn't articulate a sensible reason until I discussed this with my friend while pedaling the elliptical machines at the gym.  She quite eloquently explained that since the birth of her two children, her desire to host fancy dinner and cocktail parties for friends, has been overshadowed by her need to have a nearly silent house after bedtime, and that she is unable to form complete thoughts after the hour of 8 PM.  In order to have an outlet to exercise her hosting skills, she now throws child centered parties, offering plenty of opportunities for the adults to relax, chat, and ignore their kids for a few hours.  Instead of preparing three course meals, she now puts that creative energy into ornate birthday cakes and simple party food agreeable to both toddler and adult palates.  Engulfed in lives revolving around nap time and sippy-cups, this is how the modern parent entertains her friends.

    Well, I guess if it every one's happy, bring on the diamond studded party shoes!


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